Elizabethan Drama and Shakespeare's Early Plays: An Essay in Historical Criticism

By Ernest William Talbert | Go to book overview

VI

Love's Labour's Lost and A
Midsummer Night's Dream

FROM A COMPARISON among Shakespeare's dramas so far considered and those yet to be discussed, there could have emerged some contrasts that for the Elizabethan theater-goer might have been apparent upon reflection but that for their author were probably obvious as he composed his plays. Against the brief jig-like merriment of the classically derived Comedy of Errors, against the comic scenes of Speed and Launce, and the varying distortions of Cade and even of mocking Richard, Shakespeare must have perceived that his comic artistry culminated in Love's Labour's Lost and A Midsummer Night's Dream. Although he was to surpass himself, that artistry was unique as the winter season of 1594-95 saw the public theaters reopened for something more than sporadic performances. 1

The comic spirit of Love's Labour's Lost is unusual; for it emanates from a vigorous sophistic that is nevertheless mature enough to laugh at itself and its own absurdities. In this respect, Sir Walter Cope's note to Robert Cecil about a performance of this comedy in January of 1605 may seem to be singularly appropriate in that it specifies a sophisticated audience:

I have sent and bene all thys morning huntyng for players Juglers & Such kinde of Creaturs, but fynde them harde to finde; wherefore Leavinge notes for them to seeke me, Burbage ys come, & Sayes there ys no new playe that the quene hath not seene, but they have Revyved an olde one, Cawled Loves Labour lost, which for wytt and mirthe he sayes will please her excedingly. And Thys ys apointed to be playd to Morowe night at my Lord of Sowthamptons, unless yow send a wrytt to Remove the Corpus Cum Causa to your howse in Strande. Burbage ys my messenger Ready attendyng your pleasure. 2

-235-

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